WTC: The Meet is ON!
- – an “In My View” article by NIGEL WARD, reporting on another instance of ‘dodge the electorate’ – despite which, the Public Meeting called for Monday 8th January 2024, in the Ballroom of the ROYAL HOTEL at 6:00pm, WILL GO AHEAD, as planned.
Once again, Whitby Town Council has resorted to some rather distasteful tactics in an attempt prevent Whitby electors lawfully convening a Town Meeting/Assembly called for Monday 8th January 2024 in the Ballroom of the Royal Hotel at 6:00pm.
In an email timed and dated at 09:53h on Tuesday 2nd January 2024, Whitby Town Clerk & Responsible Financial Officer, Mr Michael KING, informed Whitby Town Councillors that the meeting was not lawfully convened, blah-blah-blah. (I will reproduce this [annotated] email later in this article).
Let me acquaint readers with the FACTS in the form of a simple Timeline:
Tuesday 19th December 2023
At the Public Meeting held in the Ballroom of the Royal Hotel, 20 (twenty) electors of Whitby signed a formal document calling for a formal Town Meeting/Assembly at the same venue on Monday 8th January 2024.
Wednesday 20th December 2023
The front-sheet of a formal Notice of Meeting/Assembly, signed by the Proposer and the Seconder, together with a second sheet, bearing the full list of signatures of electors, was delivered to the Council Offices at Pannett Park and this delivery was witnessed by the Council Security Guard. At that time, there was no Notice on the Council Notice Board indicating that the Offices would be closed on Thursday 21st or Friday 22nd December 2023. (The Council Offices do not open on a Saturday, though for the purpose of Notices, Saturday is deemed a ‘working day’).
In fact, the Opening Times of the Council Offices over the holiday break were confirmed on the Council website, thus:
As can be clearly seen, the Council Offices were scheduled to be open on Friday 22nd until 4:30pm in the afternoon. (Granted, they would be closed on Saturday 23rd and Sunday 24th (Christmas Eve) as well as on Boxing Day (26th), though they should have re-opened on Wednesday (27th), Thursday (28th) and Friday (29th) December 2023, before closing for Saturday 30th (though officially a ‘working day’), Sunday 31st and Monday 1st January 2024.
Friday 22nd December 2023
The Town Mayor, Councillor Bob DALRYMPLE, emailed the secretary of the Public Meeting of 4th December just three minutes before the Council Offices were scheduled to close at 4:30pm that day, thus:
From: Cllr. Bob Dalrymple <email@example.com>
Date: Fri, 22 Dec 2023 at 16:27
Subject: Meeting held on 19th December
To: [REDACTED] Cc: Town Councillors <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Michael King <email@example.com>, Anne Cowey <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Thank you for your email dated 21st December 2023 containing minutes and proposals from a meeting that was held on 19th December 2023.
I will liaise with the Town Clerk when the Council Office reopens on 2nd January and will contact you again in the New year regarding the points raised in your correspondence.
In the meantime may I take this opportunity to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Cllr Bob Dalrymple
So the Council (or, at least, the Mayor) was still attending to business virtually right up to the scheduled closing time of 4:30pm on Friday 22nd December 2023. Credit to him for that, at least. And please note that the Clerk/RFO was Cc:’d into that email, suggesting that the Mayor expected the Clerk/RFO to be attending to his duties.
That said, there is a conflict here between the above ‘screenshot’ and the following one, shown below (and archived here):
If the Town Clerk/RFO was at work at 4:30pm on Thursday 21st December 2023, why was he not dealing with the documentation delivered to the Council Offices the previous evening, Wednesday 20th December 2023? (Answers on a Christmas card).
Perhaps he was having a ‘duvet day’?
And if he was indeed absent from his post, why was the documentation delivered the previous evening not processed by the Deputy Clerk? Or the assistant? Was nobody at work (excepting the Mayor)?
Or do Council Staff have a fortnight off for Christmas (as well as soaking up £246,000 of the £283,000 2023/24 Precept?
It is helpful here to count the so-called ‘7 clear days’ which must elapse between the posting in a public place of a Notice of Town Meeting/Assembly and the day of the meeting itself.
These ‘clear days’ are defined in Sched.12, 10(2)(a) of the Local Government Act 1972 and clarified in the following National Association of Local Councils (NALC) Guidance:
“Clear days” does not include the day on which the notice was issued and the day of the meeting. Additionally, s.243 of the 1972 Act provides that the following days do not count when computing the “clear days”:
- a day of the Christmas break;
- a day of the Easter break;
- Bank Holidays; and
- days appointed for public thanksgiving or mourning.
So it can be readily understood that the Notices posted on Thursday 21st December 2023 would have allowed Fri. 22nd (1), Sat. 23rd (2), Wed. 7th (3), Thurs. 28th (4), Fri. 29th (5), Sat.30th (6), Tues. 2nd ’24 (7), Wed. 3rd ’24 (8), Thurs. 4th ’24 (9), Fri. 5th ’24 (10) and Sat. 6th Jan. ’24 (11). The Local Government Act 1972 requires only seven ‘clear days’ for publication of Notices for Town Meetings/Assemblies.
Thus, if the Clerk/RFO had any issues with the Notices – and had he been at work in the Council Office on Thursday 21st December 2023 – he would have had plenty of time to contact any four of the signatories (myself included) to complete what he claims are the six mandatory signatures on one page (does that even matter – that they should all appear on the one page? In a word, no.).
But he did not.
Instead, he waited until . . .
Tuesday 2nd January 2024
In disregard of the Council’s advertised Opening Times (see ‘screenshots’, above), the Clerk/RFO left it until Tuesday 2nd January 2024 before sending out his email to all Councillors (but NOT to any of the 20 electors who signed the Call – or the elected Chair or the Secretary of the Town Meeting), thus ensuring that it would no longer be possible to issue/publish the Notices in such a way as to leave the requisite 7 clear days between the day of issue/publication and the scheduled day of the Town Meeting/Assembly on Monday 8th January 2024.
His decision meant that the meeting of Full Council scheduled for Tuesday 9th January 2024 could take place WITHOUT any formal input from the electors of Whitby – and the ivory tower ‘bubble’ could remain oblivious to the views of the people they purport to represent. What’s new?
Now we can return to the Town Clerk/RFO’s misleading email, which I will annotate in red type pointing out the inaccuracies:
I am in receipt of the notice which was handed, “to the Pannett Park security guard.”
Not strictly true: the Notice documents were posted through the Council letterbox and the Security Guard shone his torch on them to confirm the fact and the nature of their delivery.
Unfortunately, the notice, which comprises two different documents, is not compliant with the requirements of paragraph 15 of Schedule 12 of the Local Government Act 1972.
Not strictly true: The Notice does indeed comprise two separate documents. However, nothing in the Local Government Act 1972 prohibits electors’ signatures being spread over more than one page.
The public notice does not carry the names of the six electors who have called the meeting. The second ‘notice’ contains twenty names as well as personal data which means that it is not capable of being published without redaction. There is no role for the parish council defined in law which enables it to ‘process’ the data on the second notice.
Again, not strictly true: The Clerk/RFO is a Registered Data Controller fully entitled to ‘process’ the documents, including necessary redaction of personal details. Obviously, it would be unnecessary to redact the six signatures that are required to appear on the documents. Cross-checking the Electoral Roll against the phone book would have secured easy access to enough electors to obtain six signatures all on the one document (as is that even matters).
The meeting is not a ‘parish meeting’ as defined in law and therefore not fundable by the town council under the powers granted by s.150 of the Act.
That may be the Clerk/RFO’s opinion. There were more than enough signatures and more than enough ‘clear days’ to call the Meeting/Assembly in accordance with the legislation. For a Council that squandered £630 having a London solicitor send out a useless ‘cease and desist’ letter to me (for daring to criticise the Council), skimping on the cost of the electorate having an opportunity to express its views is petty and, frankly, rather pathetic.
Nonetheless, there is nothing which prevents a meeting of local people convened under whatever circumstances to form a view on its own terms.
Agreed. This is the first true substantive statement of irrefutable fact in the Clerk/RFO’s email thus far.
The principle of representative democracy is that if any elector wishes to raise an issue, the direct and appropriate route is to lobby one or more member(s) of the council to take up the issue on their behalf. In this instance, any member attending the meeting may choose to bring forward the views of the meeting, or there is an opportunity for any spokesperson for the meeting to articulate the consensus of the meeting during the public participation session on 9 January.
This is the second.
It appears that Whitby Town Council and its paid ‘help’ – the Clerk/RFO is in need of a timely reminder of its own publicised raison d’être, (archived here):
Let us examine these claims: